In addition to the many publications on generational differences, there is another topic consistently obtaining media attention and it is narcissism (characterised by a low level of empathy and an inflated view of oneself). Dr. Twenge quoted in The New York Times, published August 5th, 2013, used an innovative, although controversial cross-sectional research methodology to compare personality test results and came to the conclusion that “…younger generations are increasingly entitled, self-obsessed and unprepared for adult life” (www.nytimes.com/2013).
Other researchers focusing on self-esteem see no generational difference in narcissism and some researchers using the same data from 1979 to 2007 have found that some traits increased while others decreased over the years, leading to a stable score with no significant differences. Some researchers disagree on the questions that form part of the assessment used by Twenge. Questions such as “I am assertive” and “I like to take responsibility for making decisions”, are according to Dr. Arnett normal and even desirable traits (www.nytimes.com/2013) and do not correlate with narcissism.
Twenge’s findings in her study on work attitudes included that Millennials express a weaker work ethics. This is inconsistent with the findings of many other studies (see post 48).
Peter Gray, PhD (2014, psychology today.com) states that he believes that young Americans show an increase in narcissism and a decrease in empathy based on the results of questionnaires administered to college students. The differences in scores of students today compared to students 30 years ago are highly significant. Gray believes that from the possible explanations such as misguided self-esteem (everyone is a winner and everyone is special) and an increased pressure to achieve, the lack of social play may be the strongest factor contributing to the findings. Gray states that creative play serves many purposes and that children in our current society have less opportunities to play with each other without adult interference compared to 30 years ago.
Although Gray (and Twenge) focused on data obtained from young people, they may have come to a different conclusion if they had included all ages. It should come as no surprise to see an increase in narcissism across an entire population of frequent social media users considering what and who are influencing people who are active on social media; Kanya West, Kim Kardashian, Justin Bieber, have become celebrities through shameless self-promotion (Chamorro-Premuzic, 2014; the guardian.com). The combination of high entitlement with a lazy work ethic is self-destructive, but interestingly rewarded and reinforced by the many “likes” which feeds narcissistic delusions. Chamorro-Premuzic (2014) states that it is not true that most social media users are narcissistic, but social media provides to narcissists the ultimate platform to achieve attention leading to the conclusion that the higher the score on narcissism, the stronger the social media use.
I like to add that not all who demonstrate narcissistic tendencies meet the DSM-5 minimum requirements for a diagnosis, but I could not help myself and placed Justin Trudeau in my header. If there was one politician (besides Trump) who made as abundant use of any media and social media opportunity to promote himself…it is Trudeau and his wife. By the way, they are Generation X and not Y! I wonder what Gray thinks about this, as I believe that considering Trudeau’s age, he did have an opportunity to play. He became a primary school teacher!
An Online study conducted among 1204 women and men found that narcissism as well as leadership/authority and grandiose exhibitionism exhibited positive and significant associations with selfie-posting frequency. AGE did NOT moderate the predictive effects, indicating that posting of selfies is not age dependent (Eric Weiser, 2016; #Me: Narcissism and its facets as predictors of selfie-posting frequencies).
Taylor (2011; huffingtonpost.com) has a positive message as he sees many young people who resist the “lure to the dark side”. They indeed are our hope as the rise and rise of Trump is demonstrating that unscrupulous self-promotion pays off. Isn’t he the epitome of the megalomaniac with the ultra low level of tolerance and empathy?
I love research and I know that research can be used to find evidence for any view, often even total opposite findings are published using similar or even the same data. I have found however, that keeping on digging into more research will eventually show a tipping of the scale to one side, despite the fact that many factors contribute to certain trends and that research cannot include all. The more research scrutinised however, the more certain you can be of the correctness of the conclusion.